Why pets are great for our wellbeing and mental health
Humans and animals have a long history of strong relationships dating back as far as 7,000 to 11,000 BC, when the first domestication of animals was believed to have occurred.
Humans and animals have a long history of strong relationships dating back as far as 7,000 to 11,000 BC, when the first domestication of animals was believed to have occurred. At the beginning, many domesticated animals were used as working animals before being kept as pets. While we continue to work with many domesticated species, they are now most commonly known and loved as pets.
The positive effects of pet ownership
The positive effects of pet ownership on humans have long been established. It was originally believed that pets brought about physical health benefits only due to increased exercise levels. However, recent research has focused primarily on the mental benefits pets provide their owners.
A particular physical benefit that has been studied is the favourable effects of pet ownership, particularly dog ownership, on cardiovascular health. It was in 1977 that Alan Beck and Aaron Katcher began researching the relationship between all pets and heart disease and published a book entitled ‘The Importance of Animal Companionship’ in 1983, which not only reviewed their own studies, but also other studies conducted at the same time. Research has shown that contact with pets can lower blood pressure, reduce stress, relieve anxiety and facilitate psychotherapy progression. In addition, it can help control and reduce some symptoms of behavioural problems.
Pets reduces our levels of cortisol
Since these studies many more have taken place and have strengthened the hypothesis that pets are helpful for our wellbeing and mental health. Suggesting that interaction with a pet reduces our levels of cortisol (stress hormone) and promotes the release of several different positive hormones (endorphins) in the human body such as Serotonin, Dopamine and Oxytocin.
Due to findings like those mentioned above, animal-assisted therapy has become an extremely popular complementary treatment for several medical conditions, such as autism, depression, schizophrenia and addiction to name a few. Many universities, schools and residential homes have also begun utilising these animals’ incredible abilities, with cats and dogs being the most popular choice for animal-assisted therapy (ATT). However, there is a record of horses, guinea pigs and even fish being used for AAT!
Assistance and service dogs
Many people will be familiar with assistance/service dogs, such as guide dogs. They are used to help with everyday tasks and are an essential piece of lifesaving kit when it comes to medical alert dogs. However, many people do not realise the endless amounts of social, psychological and personal companionship they provide to their owners, reducing loneliness, which can lead to depression and anxiety. It has also been noted that these amazing animals allow their owners’ confidence to grow exponentially as they form an incredible and inseparable bond.
This form of companionship and partnership is not limited to assistance animals. With most families considering their pets as part of the family or a companion and only a very small portion considering them as just an ‘animal or a pet’. With many of us being guilty of anthropomorphism from time to time! This has been matched by the steady increase in expenditure that has been seen in the pet industry around the world over the last few years!